That Seanad Éireann:
- the roll-out of 530,000 water meters across the country to date with an additional 500,000 meters due to be installed by 2016;
- two thirds of water bills will be for meters which will remain unused until 2019; and
- the overall costs of €540 million borrowed from the National Pension Reserve Fund, NPRF, to finance the implementation of water metering;
- the impending charges of €25 million due on the outstanding loan to the NPRF in September 2015 and ongoing repayments on the loan; and
- that water meters will be redundant for the first five years of their 15 year average life span;
- the confused series of U-turns on water policy by the Government that will leave water meters unused until 2019 at the earliest;
calls on the Government:
- to clarify impending legislation on water services promised in the legislative programme for the spring-summer session in 2015; and
- to set out its plan and investment details for the renewal of the water meter network from the late 2020s when the current system becomes obsolete.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this issue. There are two reasons for tabling the motion. First, a water services Bill is listed on the legislative programme. We are very anxious to know what possible U-turn this Bill will hold for us considering the previous ten. Then there are the substantial reports in recent months in terms of the obsolete nature of the water meters in time. As the Minister of State will be aware, my position and that of my party is that we are opposed to water charges. Since we have established this, we have had the ten U-turns and the various forms of adjustments that the previous Minister, the current Minister and the Minister of State have made to the debacle which are our water charges, despite the fact that we have outlined many times in the House that people cannot afford an additional charge at this time and the many arguments put forward by all sides of the House to have the Government cease plans in this regard.
We have spent €540 million on installing meters in the ground which it has been indicated will be obsolete and will cost €60 to bring up to date within a 15-year period. That makes debacles of the past such as electronic voting machines worth €50 million pale into insignificance when one considers this kind of waste. The other amount mentioned was €170 million between the set-up costs and the consultants' fees which were hidden when the former Minister misled the other House when questioned by Deputy Barry Cowen who asked what the cost would be and was told it would be around €10 million. We now know that the cost is €170 million. In total, the expenditure of Government amounts to about €710 million.
The managing director, Mr. Tierney, considers that €2.3 billion is required for investment in the water infrastructure throughout the country in the next six or seven years. If we had used our existing structure, that is, the local authorities throughout the entire country, and employed no extra expensive consultants and no new multinational figurehead company to employ all the people from other sectors who are on pensions and so on and who are coming in to the work for the private sector, 30% of the work would have been delivered already. Given that we would have had €700 million to spend, we would have delivered throughout the country by means of the roll-out of local authority water services plans, as was done in the context of water upgrades in Sligo town, for example, which was done by the local authority during the period. Instead we wasted the €700 million, which has been admitted to by the Government with all the U-turns and with the reports that €540 million has been wasted on meters that will not be fit for purpose within a 15 years and another €60 per meter will be required.
In the meantime we have had other reports by the Environmental Protection Agency which state that of the 856 water treatment plants throughout the country, 530 are in need of upgrade. Instead of doing that through a local authority structure which was working in the context of upgrading infrastructure, albeit at a less than desired pace and number, we have wasted all this money. The question is when we are going to have any of the upgrades that have been slated throughout the country? I can only give examples in County Sligo where we have had the necessary upgrade to the sewage treatment plants in Grange, Tubbercurry and Strandhill. Tubbercurry, which is the second county town, Strandhill, a large urban area of more than 1,400 people, and Rosses Point, with a somewhat smaller population, are all under the authority of Irish Water, the quango that has cost €700 million.
They are now going to have no money to invest because we have wasted it all on employing them and putting useless meters in the ground that are not going to be used until 2019, after which time they will have very little lifespan left.
When are these projects, for example those three in Sligo, going to proceed? I know what is going to happen. If I write to the Minister of State or to the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, in a couple of weeks, I will get back what we have all been getting for years. It will be like those parrot-like responses from the HSE in the context of health, that "Under the 2004 Health Act" - which was a disgrace - "the CEO of the HSE is now responsible for that issue, so I have sent your request to him for consideration." That is what we will be sent when it comes to the Granges, Tubbercurrys and Strandhills of the whole country. The Minister will be saying, "As the Deputy is aware, under the 2013 Water Services Act, the Minister has no responsibility in this area" any more - because we abdicated that, threw the money away - "so we are going to pass on your request."
I am not quite sure to whom the request will be passed on because there are now three organisations. We have the board of the overall company and then we have the board of Irish Water and the board of Bord Gáis and everybody else. The Government is going to pass the buck. It is going to do a Pontius Pilate and say, "Send it on to Irish Water and they will let you know." Irish Water will write back and say:
Sorry, we do not have the money because the Government did not make it. We are paying ourselves big salaries and spent €700 million on consultants and water meters to throw into the ground and we have no money to upgrade.
The people of Tubbercurry, Strandhill and Grange can sing for it because the then Minister, former Deputy Hogan, was in such a rush to get out to Brussels that he did not give it the appropriate thought and consideration. He did not listen to anybody in his own party, in the Dáil or in the Seanad and set up a system that, according to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, yesterday, left the Labour Party trying to clean up the Fine Gael messes of the past year.
There is collective responsibility. The whole coalition is responsible. There is €700 million down the drain. The poor people of Sligo. I just gave three examples in my county, I am sure we all have three, four, five or six examples in other counties. Places like Roscommon are on boil notices, I saw a programme about it during the week, it is not acceptable. It has been going on for years. I saw a lady in Boyle, County Roscommon, on the news the other evening, or was it "Prime Time", saying it seems to be going on forever. She cannot brush her teeth or do anything.
No doubt the Minister of State will say this is why we have to charge for water. I put it to him that this is not why we have to charge for water. This is what we have to do because we threw €700 million down the drain. As is so often the case, we did not apply the necessary thought and did not use the infrastructure we had in place. We had to go off, and despite the then Minister, former Deputy Hogan, telling us at the time he was going to spend €10 million on consultants, we had to spend €170 million on the set-up costs for Irish Water to find out how to do things. We did it all back to front and upside down and wasted €700 million or €800 million of the people's money. What are we going to do about it? By John Tierney's own admission as managing director of Irish Water, we need to invest €2.3 billion in our network throughout the country and so say all of us. As I said, of the 856 water treatment plants, 530 are below standard. How many of them could have been brought up to standard by the €800 million and by the directors of service, the area engineers and the water services employees in each local authority in the country? Quite a few, I would put to the Minister of State.
I notice that there is a Sinn Féin amendment to our motion which advocates the abolition of Irish Water. During the course of the debate we will consider whether we would support that. This is the Fianna Fáil position. Sinn Féin has changed its position, obviously, but we welcome the fact that it is now in that camp also. Fianna Fáil believes in abolishing this charge at this time. We believe in putting a new delivery model in place which takes advantage of the one that was working, although not in every instance, the one that was working nationally, the template that we had. We want to use those professionals, those people with the local knowledge, those engineers who knew where the problems were in Waterford, Kilkenny, Cavan, Wexford and all the other counties, and give them additional assistance if they need it. We want to suspend water charges. We are not in a position to afford water charges at this time. They are even not worth paying, considering the EPA warnings, not least in terms of the water treatment plants but also in terms of the amount of lead----